A pond, small or large, looks prettiest when it’s flanked with plants, and wildlife prefers the protection they offer. A pond needs plants within it, too, of three kinds: marginal, submergent and floating.
Marginal (emergent) plants have their roots in shallow water and their shoots growing above the water. Plant these along the margin, they offer hiding and mating places, surfaces for eggs and critters to cling to and beauty. Submergent plants, also called oxygenators, live underwater. They’re important to aquatic species — fish, plants and everything else — because they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen just as terrestrial plants do. They help keep water clear and alive.
Floating plants don’t anchor into the pond’s soil, they’re happy to just float around. They do what submergent plants do, but they aren’t as effective. The most important role of floating plants is to provide shade at the surface. This reduces the amount of sunlight striking the surface, thereby inhibiting algae growth.
Selecting plants for your pond involves consideration of several factors, including the size of the pond, the depth of the water, the amount of sunlight, whether the plants will spend the winter in your basement and more.
Following are lists of native plants suitable for a pond, sorted by type. The border plants listed are moisture-loving, so keep them well watered. For tons of information about building a pond large, small, or even in a barrel, here’s an excellent site. Always be cautious with aquatic plants; many can become aggressive and overtake a pond, and they’re difficult to control once they get out of hand. Be especially careful with plant selection if you have open waterways nearby. A good way to control marginal plants is to plant them in 1- to 5-gallon pots in soil topped with gravel, then place the pot in the water.
*An exception in our list of native marginal plants, Watercress is a widely grown, popular vegetable from
Asia, with no known environmental risks. Included here because it will grow under a waterfall.